City applies its graffiti bylaw to itself

In 2005, the City of Toronto passed a bylaw that allowed it to charge private businesses that had been hit by graffiti vandals. If the businesses failed to remove the graffiti within three days, the city would remove it itself and charge the business the costs and possibly a fine. While the BIA strongly supported the bylaw’s goal of eradicating graffiti, we also felt the bylaw victimized vandalized businesses twice. The bylaw would also put criminals in charge of setting a business’s spending priorities, in the case where a store owner was trying to decide whether to spend $500 on cleaning a wall or on hiring a part-time employee for the summer. Such complicated tradeoffs were no doubt the reason why the City neglected to clean its own parking meters and utility poles even as its employees went about cleaning private property nearby.

Over three years later, the City has decided that its bylaw ought to apply to itself as well. As today’s Toronto Star reports, the City’s Municipal Licensing and Standards department will now demand the same response of the City and its agencies as it currently demands of private businesses. "We have been doing it for years by going after private property," said Lance Cumberbatch, director of investigations for municipal licensing and standards, quoted in the Star. "We know people are asking: ‘What about your assets?’ " he said, adding the city has never targeted itself.

Fortunately for the City, it will never be forced to choose between cleaning a bus shelter on Roncesvalles and paying for a homeless man’s dental work. That’s because the BIA has been cleaning all City property for free as part of its Graffiti Eradication Program, which cleans the graffiti from all street-level property along Roncesvalles. About 10-20% of the graffiti it removes is found on property belonging to the City or its affiliated agencies. While the City did present the BIA with a Clean and Beautiful City award in 2005, it has never agreed to help pay for the costs of removing its own graffiti.

The City did, however, turn its attention to upper-floor graffiti along Roncesvalles, which is not yet removed under the BIA’s eradication program. In recent months, affected Roncesvalles businesses have received notices from the City warning that they face fees and fines if they don’t remove the graffiti. These works are far more elaborate than the usual tag, and would cost a total of $8,400 to remove. Adding the upper floors to the BIA’s graffiti eradication program would more than double its cost, and would benefit about ten percent of all BIA members.

The BIA hopes it has found a cost-effective solution. Working with community activists and local artists, the BIA is arranging for murals to be painted over the existing graffiti, with the affected business paying only for the paint. Murals have been shown to be far more effective in deterring vandals than simply removing graffiti to create a fresh canvas.

That leaves only one problem: such murals do not always meet the artistic standards of politicians. A commissioned mural on Dundas West recently was approved by west-end politicians while a similar mural at Kingston and Danforth was ordered removed. Which school of art criticism will prevail when our new murals are unveiled? Stay tuned and find out!

 

FURTHER READING:

Those trying to scratch out a living as graffiti artists have new hope thanks to classes funded by taxpayer dollars (Toronto Sun, May 9)

City’s hypocritical stance on graffiti not fair to business (Inside Toronto, May 13)

A plan to erase graffiti (Toronto Star Editorial, May 24)

NOTE: The Star editorialist seems a bit confused. The Star writes: "If the pilot project proves effective, it could be expanded to cover the entire city, with inspectors also aggressively searching out visible graffiti on private property and ordering its removal. As Moscoe sees it, getting rid of graffiti is ‘part of your responsibility as a citizen.’ Perhaps, but he would appear to be blaming the victim for the crime." Of course, this is backwards; the city has always targeted graffiti on private property and is only now targeting graffiti on its own property. As for the belief that Moscoe is "blaming the victim for the crime," the BIA would agree completely.